Heated conference opener against North Texas falls in WKU’s favor

Mallory Outerbridge, left, and Sydney Sisler, top, hug Christen Sims after Sims netted the go-ahead goal against North Texas. The Lady Toppers won by a 1-0 score.

M. Blake Harrison

After seven non-conference games, the WKU soccer team had just one yellow card to its record.

In their first Sun Belt Conference game Friday night —a 1-0 victory over North Texas— the Lady Toppers (3-3-2, 1-0 Sun Belt) were called for two, with the Mean Green (5-4-1, 0-1 Sun Belt) earning two of their own.

One of those belonged to junior midfielder Kelsey Meyer, who said the atmosphere that comes with playing a tough team like North Texas lends itself to struggles.

“North Texas is always a very physical team, so we had to come out here and match their intensity, which I think we did,” Meyer said.

Although both the fans and teams got on the officials for calls that were made, Meyer said the officiating had nothing to do with the game’s outcome.

“I think, even though he’s a strict ref, he reffed a really good game,” she said in reference to the official who carded her.

WKU got on the board in the 61st minute after junior forward Mallory Outerbridge led defenders downfield before she kicked the ball to sophomore midfielder Christen Sims, who netted her first goal of the season.

Outerbridge said she hoped it was Sims who flashed by on her left as she maneuvered up field.

“It was, and she put it away amazing,” Outerbridge said. “That’s all that counts.”

Sims said she was just happy to keep her composure and finish the play.

Although Neidell thought Outerbridge could’ve taken the shot herself, he said the shot Sims ended up with was better.

“That was a really pretty moment for us, and it was great to see Mal be unselfish and lay that ball across to Christen,” he said.

Head Coach Jason Neidell said the game was played without much rhythm on either side, saying it was “ugly.”

He added that players don’t need to worry about calls made by referees.

“I think sometimes we’re talking back to the referee and we just need to cut that out and just play,” Neidell said. “If you get a call against you, you just have to play that much harder to make up for it.”

Sims’ goal was all WKU needed thanks to a quality first-half effort by junior goalkeeper Libby Stout.

Her two saves in the first half’s last four minutes were “game-changing,” Neidell said.

Stout said the win gives WKU a needed confidence boost going into Sunday’s match against Denver.

“It was a grinder,” Stout said. “It really gives us a good, positive mindset going into the game. Hopefully we can start being more consistent.”